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Elementary School Teacher Career Guide

What is an elementary school teacher?

An elementary school teacher teaches kids from kindergarten to fifth or sixth grade. They teach important subjects like reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. These teachers help children learn the important things they need for school and life.

Duties and responsibilities

Elementary school teachers plan lessons and teach subjects like math, science, and art. They make sure kids understand what they’re learning by giving quizzes and assignments and then telling them how they’re doing. They also talk to parents about how their kids are doing in school, how they behave, and what they can improve at.

Work environment

Most elementary school teachers work in public, private, or charter schools. They spend their days in classrooms teaching, checking homework, and getting ready for the next day’s lessons. They work with kids, other teachers, and parents.

Typical work hours

Elementary school teachers work during the school year, starting early in the morning until the afternoon. But they often work extra hours grading papers, planning, or helping students more. They might also help with after-school activities or meetings on evenings or weekends. In the summer, some teachers take extra classes or teach summer school to learn new things and get better at their job.

How to become an elementary school teacher

Becoming an elementary school teacher involves a few steps, like earning a degree, doing an internship, getting licensed, and gaining experience.

Step 1: Get a bachelor’s degree

The first step is to get a bachelor’s degree. It’s best to study education or something related, like child development. In college, you’ll learn about how kids grow, how to teach, and how to manage a classroom.

Step 2: Do a student teaching internship

While studying, you’ll do an internship at an elementary school. You’ll work with an experienced teacher and get to plan lessons and teach kids. It’s a great way to get real experience.

Step 3: Get licensed or certified

To teach in public schools, you need a license or certification, which varies by state. This usually means passing a test and a background check. Some places might also ask you to get a master’s degree later on.

Step 4: Start teaching

Once you’re licensed, you can start teaching. Pick the grade you feel most comfortable with. The more you teach, the better you get, and this can help you move up in your career.

Step 5: Keep learning

Teachers need to keep learning new things. This can be through workshops, seminars, or more classes. Most schools want their teachers to do this kind of learning every year.

Step 6: Maybe get a master’s degree

Some teachers go back to school for a master’s degree, which can help them earn more money and open up more chances to move up. You could also specialize in something like special education or reading, which can make your job even more rewarding.

How much do elementary school teachers make?

Elementary school teacher salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. The level of expertise, years in the profession, and size and location of the school district are among the factors that can significantly influence their compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Education Support Services: $69,560
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools: $59,670
  • Technical and Trade Schools: $55,930

Highest paying states

  • New York: $82,830
  • California: $80,510
  • Massachusetts: $79,310
  • Alaska: $77,520
  • Connecticut: $75,480

Browse elementary school teacher salary data by market

Types of elementary school teachers

  • Lead classroom teacher: This teacher takes care of one class, usually in a specific grade. They plan lessons, grade assignments, manage the class, and talk to families about how the students are doing and behaving.
  • Reading specialist teacher: These teachers help children who have trouble reading. They make special plans and often work with small groups or one-on-one to focus on each student’s needs.
  • Special education teacher: These teachers work with students who have special needs and create plans that fit each student’s way of learning. They also work with other teachers and their families to help these kids learn and grow.
  • ESL teacher: ESL teachers help students learning English as a second language. They use special methods to help these students improve their English, like working on vocabulary and grammar. 
  • Gifted and talented teacher: These teachers work with kids who are really good at things like thinking, being creative, or doing art. They make sure these gifted kids have challenging and interesting things to learn and understand their special social and emotional needs.

Top skills for elementary school teachers

  • Proficiency in subject matter: Teachers must really know their stuff. They should understand the subjects they teach well and be able to explain things in a way that kids can easily understand and learn from.
  • Innovative instruction: These teachers must find fun and effective teaching methods. They need to come up with creative ideas and use technology to make lessons more interesting and help kids love learning.
  • Interpersonal communication: They need to be good at talking with both kids and adults. This includes listening well, speaking clearly, and writing in a way that’s easy to understand.
  • Understanding of child development: Knowing how kids grow and learn helps them tailor their teaching to fit different ages and needs. This is really important for teaching different grades in elementary school.
  • Flexibility: Being able to adapt is key. They might need to change lesson plans quickly or handle unexpected things that happen in the classroom.
  • Patience: Since elementary school kids are just starting to learn the basics, they need a lot of help and repetition. These teachers must be patient as kids learn and grow at their own pace.

Elementary school teacher career path options

As an elementary school teacher, you have many choices for growing your career. Here’s a look at some of the paths you might take:

  • School principal or counselor: With extra training and certification, you could become a school principal or counselor. You would lead a whole school or help students with their personal and academic needs.
  • Specialized teacher roles: You might become a reading specialist or special education teacher. These roles focus more on specific student needs, like helping kids with reading or those with special learning requirements.
  • Educational policy or youth program management: If you’re interested in bigger changes in education, you could work in educational policy or manage programs for young people. This takes your teaching skills beyond the classroom.
  • Lead teacher: You’d guide other teachers, helping them improve and manage their classrooms better. It’s about using your experience to help others teach well.
  • Curriculum specialist: You’d help design what and how kids learn in school. You would decide on the subjects and teaching methods used across a school or district.
  • School principal or assistant principal: You would oversee everything in a school, from how it’s run to the culture and policies. This requires more education, like a master’s degree in educational administration.
  • Educational consultant: You could advise schools or education companies on how to teach better and improve student learning.
  • Roles outside traditional schools: Your teaching skills can also be useful in learning centers, non-profit organizations, or community programs focusing on young people. You’d be taking your skills to a wider community setting.

Each of these paths offers a way to use your teaching skills and experience to make a bigger impact, whether in a classroom, a school, or the wider community.

The future of elementary education looks dynamic and promising, with new trends and technologies shaping the way teaching and learning happen.

  • Social and emotional learning (SEL): One big trend in elementary education is focusing on social and emotional learning. Teachers are not just teaching subjects like math and reading but also helping kids understand and manage their feelings, build strong relationships, and make good decisions. 
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR): AR and VR are starting to change how kids learn, turning complicated ideas into fun, interactive experiences. Imagine learning about the solar system by actually ‘seeing’ the planets around you in class!
  • Digital learning and technology: The pandemic showed us how important it is to use technology in teaching. Even though kids are back in classrooms, digital tools like tablets, online games, and e-learning platforms are still being used a lot. 

Employment projections

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for elementary school teachers are predicted to grow by 1 percent through 2032. Most of the job growth will stem from changes in student-teacher ratios and increases in enrollment. However, job prospects vary by region and are likely to be more favorable in the south and west.

Elementary school teacher career tips

Understand local curriculum standards

Knowing your local education standards is crucial. These standards outline what students need to learn at each grade. By understanding them, you can ensure your lessons align with these benchmarks, providing the best education for your students.

Develop strong classroom management skills

Effective classroom management is key to a productive learning environment. Set clear rules, establish routines, and manage student behavior. Remember, the secret to success is consistency and fairness.

Embrace technology in education

Technology is a big part of education today. Being good at using tech tools and incorporating them into your lessons can make learning more exciting and prepare students for a digital future.

Invest in continuous learning

Education keeps changing, so keep learning. This might involve:

  • Joining academic education journals
  • Attending workshops, seminars, and educational events
  • Enrolling in extra courses or certifications, especially in areas like child psychology or STEM

Build a professional network

Networking is really helpful for your career. It can lead to learning from experienced teachers, getting new ideas, and finding job opportunities. Consider joining groups like:

  • National Education Association (NEA)
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
  • Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education

Where the elementary school teacher jobs are

Top employers

  • New York City Department of Education
  • Chicago Public Schools
  • Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Gwinnett County Public Schools
  • The Goddard School

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Teach Away
  • Teachers On Net
  • LinkedIn


What does a day in the life of an elementary school teacher look like?

A typical day starts by preparing lessons and materials needed for the day’s classes. They conduct the lessons, review and provide feedback on students’ class work, monitor recess and lunchtime, and offer extra help to students struggling with certain subjects. They end the day by grading assignments, updating student records, and preparing for the next day. Teacher-parent meetings and participation in school life, like clubs, are also common.

What essential skills does an elementary school teacher need?

They need excellent communication skills, patience, empathy, creativity, and organization skills. Understanding child development and having a passion for educating children is equally pivotal.

What are the emotional demands of being an elementary school teacher?

Teaching at the elementary level can be emotionally demanding due to the constant need for energy, enthusiasm, and patience. Teachers deeply empathize with their students, which might lead to stress when students have personal or academic struggles. The role also invites public scrutiny in terms of test scores and student behavior, placing additional emotional demands on teachers.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an elementary school teacher?

Among the most challenging aspects is meeting the diverse needs of students. They must adapt their teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles, behavioral issues, and students with special needs. Large class sizes can make individualized instruction difficult. They also face the challenge of meeting educational benchmarks, sometimes with limited resources. Engaging with parents who have different expectations is another challenge teachers often face.

What are the advantages of being an elementary school teacher?

They can find immense satisfaction in contributing to children’s academic and personal growth. They often form close bonds with students and enjoy the ability to influence young minds positively. The school calendar provides breaks and opportunities for rest that align with children’s school holidays. The profession frequently offers job stability and a supportive, friendly work environment. Additionally, the variety in a teacher’s daily schedule can keep the job exciting and fulfilling.

What kind of preparation is required for an elementary school teacher before the school year begins?

Before the school year begins, they usually set up and decorate their classrooms to create an inviting learning environment. They prepare lesson plans for several weeks ahead, taking into account the required curriculum and individual learning needs of their students. They also review student files to understand their educational backgrounds and special needs. Some schools require teachers to attend pre-school year workshops or meetings as part of their preparation.

How does an elementary school teacher engage parents in their child’s education?

They maintain open lines of communication, updating parents periodically about their child’s progress, achievements, and areas for improvement. They conduct responsibly managed parent-teacher conferences that can address concerns or discuss the child’s overall progress. Teachers may also provide suggestions to parents on how to support learning at home. Some teachers enlist parents’ participation in classroom activities or school-wide events, which fosters a collaborative partnership between the teacher, parents, and the community.

How does an elementary school teacher manage classroom behavior?

They set clear expectations and boundaries from the very beginning. They consistently enforce rules and follow through with consequences. They foster a positive learning environment by praising appropriate behavior and promptly addressing inappropriate behavior. Teachers employ various classroom management techniques, such as organizing engaging activities to limit disruptions and using non-verbal cues to control behavior. Additionally, understanding the individual needs of each student can help teachers preemptively manage behavior and provide appropriate support.

What types of assessments do elementary school teachers administer?

Traditional assessments, like quizzes and tests, are used to measure what students have learned about specific topics. Homework and classwork are used to assess both understanding of subject matter and work habits. Teachers may also use project-based assessments, such as presentations or science projects, to evaluate problem-solving skills and creativity. Informal assessments, like class participation and teacher observations, are also important for assessing overall engagement and behavioral development.